Featured Articles

Blossom Leilani Crawford

How I teach Pilates for dancers

Crawford in her Bridge Pilates studio in Brooklyn’s Dumbo neighborhood

“Kathy Grant used to say, ‘Let your fingers do the walking,’ like the Yellow Pages ad. I mean, do people even know what the Yellow Pages are anymore?” says Pilates teacher Blossom Leilani Crawford, as she uses two fingers to trace a student’s articulating spine in the Hissing Cat exercise. Crawford, a bona fide Pilates historian and disciple of first-generation Pilates student Kathleen Stanford Grant, carries a barely bottled excitement as she teaches and lectures on the origins of the late Grant’s cat exercises.

Crawford spent the early years of her teacher training tirelessly observing and later assisting Grant’s early morning class in the dance department of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. Grant had a quirky sense of humor and a deep love for cats. During her tenure at NYU, she developed a series of 10 “cats,” quadruped exercises aimed at tempering gratuitous flexibility and runaway hypermobility in dancers and helping them develop stability and strength and warm up the spine. Her cats serve as a supplemental text to the Pilates canon. Crawford was around during the final codification of this project, and even has a cat exercise bearing her own name. In the world of Grant, and now Crawford, the discipline of turning inward for more strength and alignment in conditioning class can allow dancers to find increased confidence in their bodies onstage and off.

Crawford’s Pilates classes at Mark Morris Dance Center are tinged with Grant’s practice of incorporating sound, using specific direction and creative imagery to create an environment ripe for self-discovery. “Kathy was concerned with dancers just copying forms from the outside. She wanted them to feel a shape from the inside,” says Crawford. The Roll Up, a classic Pilates exercise where the spine is peeled off the mat from a supine position one bone at a time, is performed along with a recitation of 10 counts. Another abdominal exercise is given with an added whistle. The vocalizations are added to draw more awareness to the breath, to bring more focus to the work in the present moment. Likewise, Crawford shies away from repetitive demonstrations, instead choosing to give precise directions for each movement such as “tuck your chin like an angry turtle.”

Crawford (right) with her late mentor, “cats” creator Kathleen Stanford Grant

On a Wednesday evening in October, after talking students through a particularly difficult side-kick series, she jokes, “Now that’s an eyebrow lifter.” Crawford’s playful humor acts as a release and a reward for her demanding approach that comes out of Grant’s holistic theory: “The body you have in this class is the same body you perform with, so you have to be present and meticulous. Everything applies.” DT

Candice Thompson danced with the Milwaukee Ballet Company and is a writing fellow at Columbia University.

Photos (from top): by Kyle Froman, by Noboru Morikawa, courtesy of Blossom Leilani Crawford

controlbar=over&file=http%3A%2F%2Fvideos.dancemedia.com/6ad17730819b5820f7df5041225e4105b980c0ed/video.mp4&image=/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Screen-shot-2015-03-02-at-11.55.21-AM.jpg&&&viral.pluginmode=FLASH"/>

Dance Buzz

Bobbi Jene is another poignant film to add to this year's must-see list of dance documentaries.

After 10 years living in Israel and dancing with Ohad Naharin's Batsheva Dance, American dancer Bobbi Jene Smith decides to leave the company –and the life she's come to know–in search of finding her own path as a dancer and choreographer.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Photo by Jim Lafferty; modeled by Sydney Magruder, courtesy of Broadway Dance Center

"If you don't have strong abdominal muscles, you sag into your lower back, your pelvis usually tips and you're hanging out and slumped into your hip joints," says Deborah Vogel, movement analyst, neuromuscular expert and co-founder of the Center for Dance Medicine in New York City. "It just has this whole chain reaction."

The effects of poor core strength can be dire for dancers: from weak and tight hip flexors, which negatively impact extensions, to lower-back discomfort and misaligned shoulders and necks. "Having well-toned abdominals for your posture is the primary reason why you should do stabilizing exercises," says Vogel. "It will allow you to bring your pelvis into correct alignment and good posture."

Keep reading... Show less
How-To
In Motion's senior company dancers and Candice after a showcase performance in Bermuda, (2016). Photo courtesy of Culmer-Smith

When I was 23, an e-mail circulated among my former college dance classmates at Towson University, regarding a teaching position as the jazz director at the In Motion School of Dance studio in Bermuda. I applied, and after a few e-mails, I got offered the job.

Four weeks later, I packed up my tiny little car in Denver, where I was a dancer for the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble, and drove across the country to my hometown in Maryland, before flying out for my new life in Bermuda.

Looking back now, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I didn't have time to think through how I should prepare and what I needed to do to officially apply for a work permit. I was mostly concerned with how I was going to pack all my clothes and belongings into two suitcases. If I could go back, I wish I would've had a more specific guide to what teaching in another country entailed.

In an effort to share my experience, here's what I wish I would've known before I left and what I learned over my 10 years living and working as a dance teacher abroad.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
At age 12, doctors advised Paige Fraser to stop dancing and have surgery. Instead, she chose physical therapy and team of chiropractors and massage specialists to help work through her condition. She has just begun her 5th season with Visceral Dance, based in Chicago.

Scoliosis is a condition in which the spine, when viewed from the back, has one or more curves. The vertebrae are abnormally rotated, which creates twisting and more prominent visibility of the rib cage on one side, and it is most commonly seen in adolescents ages 10 and older. Most cases cannot be reversed, but they can be controlled, for example dancer Paige Fraser who despite suffering from severe scoliosis, has thrived as a dancer. Dance teachers can play an essential role in spotting the condition at an early stage.

“Teachers can help to notice that scoliosis is there in the first place," says Sophia Fatouros, a New York City–based dance teacher and and former professional ballet dancer who has struggled with scoliosis since she was 12. “Parents do not always see their children in tight clothes, like leotards."

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Sebastian Grubb (right) runs Sebastian's Functional Fitness in San Francisco. Photo courtesy of Grubb

From improved aerobic capacity to better reactivity, cross-training can to do wonders for dancers' health and performance. But with the abundance of exercise programs available, how do you get your dancers on the right routine?

Sebastian Grubb, a San Francisco–based fitness trainer and professional dancer, shares three questions to ask as you consider different cross-training options.

Keep reading... Show less
Videos

When choreographer Cristian Faxola learned he had two days to create, develop and shoot a music video as an audition to choreograph for The Squared Division production house, he and his team embraced the challenge.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Thinkstock

I have heard you say that tight hamstrings prevent full extension of the knees and that you prefer hamstring stretches in a standing position, rather than on the floor. Can you explain why?

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Videos

Sponsored

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox

Win It!

Sponsored